February 23, 2015 Tech Tips

Should Your Company “Unfriend” Facebook?

It’s Okay to Hate Facebook

It’s not nice to say it, but Facebook is getting obnoxious. Maybe it’s the shape-shifting privacy policy or the phantom Candy Crush invitations. Maybe it’s the unsolicited friend requests from Siberia or the trashy CrossFit photos that constantly wing across the homepage. Either way, it is clear that somewhere, somehow, something has gone wrong. We all have our grievances. Personally, I’d like to ban the pop-ups that daily pepper my newsfeed, asking me to “click” if I like bling, to “ping” if I am looking for “rich singles in my area,” or to “share” if I’m interested in free “miracle pills.” But it’s not just the spam. As a small-business owner, my problems with Facebook run deeper than a handful of miracle pills, and broader than a collection of unasked for “pokes.”

“None of my Friends Use Facebook,” And Other Concerns

Facebook is the only social media platform that is currently shrinking. Last year, while Pinterest and Tumblr reported 97 and 95% growth respectively, Facebook lost 9% of its user-base. In August 2013, thirteen-year-old Ruby Karp submitted an article to Mashable titled: “I’m 13, and none of my friends use Facebook.” Her piece was shared more than 55,000 times. It was picked up by writers at Slate, Forbesand Business Insider. In a week, the article was everywhere, even on Facebook, the very network Karp abjured. Since 2013, a surge of studies have predicted the “decline” of Facebook, anticipating a mass exodus to apps like Tumblr, Vine, SnapChat, and Pinterest. Clive Thompson, author of How Technology is Changing Our Minds, notes that “In three years of research and talking to hundreds of everyday users, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say ‘I love Facebook.’” It is difficult to know why users are turning away from Facebook, but it is easy to understand why they might want to. When Facebook was first launched, information-sharing was much slower than it is now. Equipped with flip-phones, digital cameras and desktop computers, Facebook’s first generation posted about events only after they had happened, manually uploading to Facebook from camera phones and memory cards. On an iPhone 6, this kind of networking would seem grindingly antique. Facebook wasn’t built like SnapChat or Instagram. It is pre-Big Data, pre-mobile. Maybe that’s why the company has had to buy so many of its competitors, acquiring Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. Meanwhile, rival companies continue to build off the capabilities that Facebook pioneered. Twitter, for example, mimics Facebook’s newsfeed, but permits users to curate their own pages instead of prescribing content using algorithm-addled formulas.

Who Moved My Facebook Updates?

Facebook has been scrambling to keep its users happy. In 2014, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his commitment to “protecting” users from junk content by decreasing the organic reach of company pages. The ensuing algorithm update had the opposite effect. Companies who could no longer reach their fans through generic news updates started paying for sponsored posts, which subsequently flooded the Facebook web space. Last year, 93% of Facebook’s Q4 revenue came from advertisements, a figure which surpasses last years’ advertising revenue by 53%. Facebook’s most recent algorithm update, launched January 2015, has meant that only 2 to 8% of a brand’s Facebook followers ever actually see updates from the companies they follow. Studies indicate that only 0.073% of these users will go on to use Facebook to interact with branded web content. What does this mean for companies who rely on Facebook to connect with their customers? Is it finally time to “unfriend” Facebook for good?

It’s Not Okay to Delete Facebook (Yet)

Facebook has over 890 million active users. People spend more time browsing Facebook on their smartphones than they do browsing any other web application, even Google. Obviously, it would be a mistake not to create a company Facebook page. Great content can go viral in spite of Facebook’s algorithms. Even if it doesn’t, an active Facebook page is still a great asset, just look at how OreoStarbucks,MTV, and YouTube use their accounts. Facebook is a powerful resource for companies who want to complement their existing web presence, but it should not be the only web presence that a company has.

How to Survive a Hypothetical Facebook Apocalypse

If your content isn’t seen by the right people, it’s not valuable. With Facebook constantly changing its policies, companies should make sure that they can disseminate content with or without Facebook’s help. Here are three easy ways to extend your company’s reach beyond Facebook:

1. Encourage your Facebook Fans to Join Subscriber Lists:

Your fans might not know about Facebook’s algorithms, and if they like what you’ve been posting, they might want to subscribe to your e-mail list so that they don’t miss any of your updates.

2. Switch to Instagram (B2C Companies)

Brand engagement is 58 times higher on Instagram than it is on Facebook. From an Instagram account, your brand can engage with any fellow user. You can also use hashtags to track targeted users, or to connect your posts with trending topics. More importantly, you can be sure that all your subscribers see your updatse because Instagram news feeds are displayed in chronological order and company content is not weeded out by unfriendly algorithms (yet…)

3. Switch to LinkedIn (B2B Companies)

If you are a B2B company, or your customer-base consists primarily of adults over the age of 35, you cannot afford to shun LinkedIn. The platform will allow you to research clients, to discover contacts, to share content, and to track rival companies. LinkedIn is a great place to establish a corporate brand. Most corporate giants are on LinkedIn, including Bill GatesBarack Obama – even Conan O’Brien.

Conclusions

We are constantly walking a tightrope with Facebook. As a personal user, I would be happy for “overly promotional” content to be curtailed. But I also recognize that the algorithm updates purporting to curtail this type of content have only exacerbated the problem. Facebook is still dominated by advertisements – only from different sources. I’m not blaming the company for its constantly shifting priorities, but I don’t want to fall afoul of its capricious algorithms – and you shouldn’t either.